AUGUSTA — The founder of a nonprofit that built a substance abuse treatment facility for homeless people in North Carolina is looking to create a treatment facility for veterans on land in Augusta that is part of the state’s east side campus of offices.

Dennis Parnell, who no longer is involved directly in the substance abuse treatment facility he founded and ran for 17 years, told skeptical city councilors in a briefing about the proposed project that it would bring both needed substance abuse recovery services and vocational training for veterans, and it would help spur economic development in Augusta.

The project, which would involve the historic Kennebec Arsenal property next to the state property, currently has no funding, Parnell acknowledged under questioning from councilors.

Tom Niemann, the owner and would-be developer of the arsenal property, presented the proposal to councilors with Parnell, who is the founding director of a nonprofit substance abuse treatment organization with a 180-bed facility for men and a 100-bed facility for women in North Carolina.

“We’re doing a couple of different things at the same time,” Parnell said. “It’s a lot more than a treatment facility. We’re talking about development of the riverfront, providing jobs for veterans.”

He said it would be a complete recovery program for veterans with substance abuse problems, including recovery, reintegration and vocational training, and that it could be a demonstration model “for a new way of doing business.”

Niemann has faced criticism from state and city officials over the past several years for failing to redevelop the arsenal property, which he bought from the state in 2007.

Parnell and Niemann said part of vocational training for veterans who complete their recovery treatment at the facility could help provide the workforce for a hotel or restaurant Niemann eventually could develop on the Arsenal property.

Niemann said his vision is to create a 30-room boutique hotel in the largest arsenal building, which is on the riverfront.

Councilors agreed there is a need for substance abuse treatment in Maine but were wary of the proposal.

“I think it’s the wrong place and I don’t see the financial viability of this group for this plan,” Councilor Linda Conti said.

Councilor Eric Lind asked why, since Niemann has owned the arsenal and done nothing with it since 2007, all of a sudden he’s partnering with Parnell to create a veterans’ facility.

Niemann said the combined project would be more likely to attract funding than either piece of it would alone, so the long-sought riverfront development would be more viable.

Niemann said as plans become clearer, sources of revenue for it will become clearer as well.

The proposal would rely on the group acquiring a parcel of land on the state’s east side campus, the former grounds of the Augusta Mental Health Institute, that it is considering for the proposed facility.

Legislation passed in 2014 allowing the state to sell or give the land to a nonprofit to use for transitional housing for homeless veterans, though that proposed use never materialized and the property has remained vacant and in state hands. That legislation was sponsored by Corey Wilson, who at the time was a state representative for Augusta and who is now an at-large city councilor.

This year Rep. Matt Pouliot, R-Augusta, sponsored a resolve at Wilson’s request to amend that legislation to allow the property to be sold to a nonprofit restricted to using it for either transitional housing or substance abuse treatment for veterans.

The amended bill was approved Jan. 29 by the Legislature’s State and Local Government Committee. Pouliot said the bill is tabled, but it might go to the House for consideration next week. He believes the bill would likely be vetoed by Gov. Paul LePage, and some legislators have expressed concern that it would be limited only to veterans.

Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, said he wouldn’t vote for the bill unless he hears a strong endorsement from the council.

He said he considers the arsenal property the most special property in Augusta, and suggested there might be more appropriate places for a substance abuse treatment facility to be built in Augusta.

Parnell founded The Healing Place of Wake County, since renamed Healing Transitions, in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 2001.

Healing Transitions, according to its website, provides peer-based recovery programs, including an emergency overnight shelter, to homeless and other underserved people with alcohol and drug addictions. It uses non-medical detoxification, in which users seek to end their addictions without the use of medications.

He said he hasn’t worked for the organization for two years, recently had his own consulting firm, the Parnell Group, and is currently partnering with Niemann.

The North Carolina Secretary of State’s Office database lists the Parnell Group as dissolved as a corporation.

Keith Edwards can be contacted at 621-5647 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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